Foreign policy must be colour blind

With the United Nations World Conference Against Racism just ended–if you missed it, don’t worry, nothing important happened–I thought now was as good a time as any to discuss racism in the world, specifically how it seeps into foreign policy. Today’s racism is not like it was years ago. Oh sure, there are cross burnings, just not on the lawns of Prince George. Today’s racism often reveals itself in how countries, especially western democracies, deal with each other and the world around them.

Remember how the West reacted to Rwanda? A half-million Tutsis were massacred and aside from a token force of peacekeepers far too small to deal with the problem, the West ignored the situation and instead focused on Bosnia and the Middle East. Now, I’m not suggesting the suffering of a Rwandan in a refugee camp in Burundi or Zaire is any more than that of a Bosnian or a Palestinian, but it is certainly no less. However because of the underlying racism in western foreign policy, it was made to seem so.

Racist attitudes also pop up anytime a country in the developing world holds an election. To ensure that everything is on the up and up, United Nations observers are sent. This seems like a good idea, as the countries in question do not have a history of democracy, but if one looks closer, one sees something much more sinister. The observers are sent to prevent cheating and intimidation at the ballot box. If this is true, shouldn’t the observers also be sent to Russia, which has almost no democratic tradition, or to Quebec during the next referendum so no more anti-sovereignty votes can be thrown out, or even Florida during the next American presidential election?

Finally, one sees racism in the higher standard the West holds itself to. One case in point is that of Joerg Haider, the head of the far right Freedom Party in Austria. When the Freedom Party was brought into a coalition government following the 1999 election, the European Union imposed diplomatic sanctions on its fellow member while Israel severed all diplomatic ties. Because Haider had once praised Nazi employment policies, statements he has since apologized for, he will be forever tarred as with the epithet Nazi.

Now, I am not an apologist for Haider. He does not need me defending him, nor do I want to. I would just like to point out that he and his party were democratically elected. And unlike Maggie Thatcher’s pal Pinochet, Haider did not have his opponents silenced, nor did he make them disappear. Those who condemn Austria and Haider, while not doing the same to non-democratically elected leaders in developing countries, are just as guilty of racist attitudes as the Klansman burning a cross on a lawn. One cannot hold Austria to a higher standard than one would Nigeria or Ecuador just because Austrians are white.

Racism is as old as history and it is not going to go away anytime soon. But the danger today is different from that of 50 years ago. Do not look for the crackers in bed sheets and white hoods stalking black churches. They’re still around, but they are no real danger. The real danger comes from those who ignore Rwanda simply because it is far away as well as those who criticize Haider’s views while not doing the same to a non-democratic totalitarian, just because said leader is not white.

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